July Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

//published 1956//

Actually, I felt more than “meh” about this book – it was a delight, and an easy 4/5.  However, what can one say about Heyer’s work that hasn’t already been said?  The characters were lively and clever, the adventure took many hilarious twists, and there happy endings handed out all around.  Heyer is always so relaxing and pleasant – never any niggling doubts as to whether or not everything will end with sunshine and rainbows.  I really loved everyone in this book, and it had me snorting with laughter on more than one occasion.  It felt like the ending was a bit rushed/it would have been nice to see a little bit more of a love story between Gareth and Hester, but all in all this story was just super adorable and happy.

Also, it was #10 for #20BooksofSummer!

Sunlight & Shadow by Cameron Dokey

//published 2004//

I really liked Dokey’s fairy tale retellings (this is the third I’ve read).  This story moved right along.  It was a little weird because Dokey used five first-person perspectives, and never told us who we were jumping to next, you just kind of had to read a few sentences and figure it out.  This felt weird at first, but once I got into the groove, it worked completely.  The voices were actually really, really similar, though, so it was mostly the actual circumstances that indicated who was doing the talking.

In her afterword, Dokey said that this book was actually inspired by the story from one of Mozart’s operas, which I found entertaining.  It has a very mythological flavor, since the main character (Mina) is the daughter of the Queen of Night and the Mage of Day.  The story is not just about Mina finding true love (which of course she does), but about the balance between light and darkness.  As always, Dokey has a slim thread of thoughtfulness running throughout a story that appears to be all fluff and lightheartedness, leaving me thinking about it a bit after I’ve finished.

An easy 3.5/5 and a very pleasant read, as well as being #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams

In this Pride & Prejudice variation, shortly after the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bennett finds out that he doesn’t have much longer to live.  He regrets wasting time and money, and decides to do the best that he can to make up for it.  He makes a bunch of rules for the girls, including sending Lydia back to the schoolroom, and gives them actual lessons to do, which feels a little bit weird since Jane and Elizabeth are in their 20’s.  Mr. Bennett is also determined that if any eligible suitors come asking, he will marry the girls off, as long as it doesn’t seem like the guy is a total jerk.  So at Hunsford, Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennett for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and Mr. Bennett says yes.

All in all, this was actually a really pleasant P&P variation.  It was definitely PG13 – a lot of innuendo and discussions, but nothing explicit.  It was also quite refreshing that there were no ridiculous villains.  However, it did feel like only Elizabeth was doing the changing.  In the original, both Darcy and Elizabeth realize their shortcomings, but in this version, Darcy didn’t really seem to have any.  Towards the end, he is really insulting towards the Gardiners when he meets them for the first time.  Elizabeth takes him to task and Darcy apologizes, but he never interacts with them again in the story, so it didn’t necessarily come through that he really felt remorseful about the situation.

Still, a pleasant story and an easy way to spend an afternoon.  3.5/5.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

Burnett is another one of those authors whose two most famous books – The Secret Garden and A Little Princess – were childhood favorites (that I still love today), but somehow I’ve never really checked to see if she wrote anything else.  So I added The Making of a Marchioness, along with its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst to my 20 Books of Summer list.

This was a pleasant read, but was almost like an outline of a book rather than a full-length story.  It’s only around 180 pages with large print, so more of a novella.  Still, the main character, Emily, was rather adorable, even though she was almost absurdly nice.  Through a series of events she gets invited to a country house party (mainly so she can do a bunch of errands for the hostess) and ends up marrying the most eligible bachelor there.

However, there really isn’t much of a love story.  Walderhurst admires her from afar, but during his proposal, he says that he “must marry, and I like you better than any woman I have ever known.  … I am a selfish man, and I want an unselfish woman.”  It doesn’t seem particularly romantic that he’s marrying her because she won’t make very many demands on his time or purse, but overall he seems like a fine fellow, so I actually did end the book believing that they would deal well together.  A 3/5 and I am intrigued to read the sequel.  Also, #15 for #20BooksofSummer!

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‘Pride & Prejudice’ Variations – Minireviews

I have confessed before that when my life gets  busy and stressed, my reading gets suuuuper fluffy, and, in most cases, takes on the form of terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I hate to admit it, but I find them endlessly entertaining, mostly because I love the concept of one thing being different, and suddenly the whole story changes.  While many of them are, admittedly, dreadful, some are still enjoyable.  I’m embarrassed to tell you all how many I’ve read lately, but here are a few, just as a sample…

The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams

//published 2013//

This one was pretty low key, but still pleasant.  In this story, Darcy and Elizabeth meet at Netherfield per canon, but, after the assembly where Elizabeth becomes quite prejudiced against Darcy, Georgiana comes from London to stay at Netherfield as well, and she and Elizabeth become friends.  A few months later, when Darcy is away visiting a relative (and Jane is staying in London with the Gardiners), Georgiana invites Elizabeth to come and stay with her.  However, Darcy returns home early, so he and Elizabeth have an opportunity to know each other better.

Things I liked:  This was just a nice variation.  There weren’t all these crazy evil people trying to drive Darcy and Elizabeth apart, there weren’t loads of steamy sex scenes, and there was no violence or rape.  In short, it was a variation that I don’t think would have made Jane Austen twitch too much.  I liked the slowly developing friendship between Darcy and Elizabeth, and I liked how not all of Darcy’s relatives immediately disliked Elizabeth.  It was also nice to have Georgiana be nice, because some variations like to turn her into a selfish shrew.

Things I didn’t like:  There was this kind of random love triangle that was never a really serious love triangle, and I don’t even understand why authors bother with it in these stories because DUH the whole point is Darcy and Elizabeth end up together, so it doesn’t really seem fair to the other fellow, does it??  Also, this book had a ridiculously long epilogue that was so involved it felt like Adams should have just written a sequel.  Instead, we just got like a couple of paragraphs throwing everyone’s lives into disarray.

Conclusion:  3/5 for a pleasant story.  Nice for relaxing but not terribly thrilling.

Fate & Consequences by Linda Wells

//published 2009//

In this version, Darcy arrives at Ramsgate too late to stop Georgiana.  He pursues her (and Wickham, obviously), and manages to catch up with them at an inn in a small town called Meryton.  While Georgiana hasn’t actually stayed a night with Wickham, she is still ruined when word gets out of her attempted elopement.  While in Meryton, Darcy and his sister happened to run into Elizabeth, and a series of events leads to Elizabeth and Georgiana beginning a correspondence.  Darcy and Elizabeth also begin a clandestine correspondence, and fall in love through their letters.  Because Georgiana is ruined when Darcy and Elizabeth meet, Darcy has already been humbled in many ways, and is much more open to falling in love with Elizabeth in consequence.

Things I liked:  Again, I like stories where people are friends and then fall in love, and this version did that well.  Elizabeth and Darcy are just so good for each other in this story, always supporting and helping each other through difficult times.  There was a good secondary story about Elizabeth having an aunt that she never knew about because her aunt was also ruined as a young woman and sent off to Scotland in disgrace.  I also liked the way that Mr. Bennet and his wife began to work through their relationship and ended as a stronger couple in the end.

Things I didn’t like:  Mostly the ridiculous drama, like seriously Wickham is a bit over-the-top, and Lady Catherine definitely is.  Also, one of Elizabeth’s letters go missing and even though she and Darcy hardly know each other at this point, Darcy goes into this deep, dark depression and refuses to eat or sleep for days and it all just seemed a *tad* melodramatic for the situation.  Also, definitely too much sex.  Just please.  No.

Conclusion:  Still, 3/5 because there were a lot of good characterizations, and when Wells wasn’t going crazy with emotional turmoil, the story moved along well.

1932 by Karen M. Cox

//published 2010//

I really love versions where the actual setting is different.  In some ways, I think that illustrates how universal this love story really has become.  Here, Cox decided to set the story during the Great Depression.  Elizabeth’s family has lost most of their money and has to move to the small town where her mother grew up.  The Darcys of course were much better planners and have suffered minimal financial distress, and Darcy is one of the largest landowners around.

Things I liked:  I loved the concept and the setting, and I liked that Darcy and Elizabeth got married towards the middle of the story (in this version, it would be sort of the equivalent of Elizabeth accepting Darcy during the Hunsford proposal), and then grew towards love from there.  I also liked that Georgiana was likable and kind.

Things I didn’t like:  Overall, this story just felt rushed, like the author had this great idea and felt like she had to publish it before someone else beat her to the punch.  Consequently, the story felt choppy in bits.  The love story between Georgiana and the sheriff could have been much more interesting.  Darcy’s refusal to tell Elizabeth the truth of Georgiana’s past, even after Darcy and Elizabeth married, felt very unnatural, so I didn’t really buy their entire disagreement which was central the story – it seemed like Darcy would have told Elizabeth at least the basic gist.  Later, Darcy and Elizabeth have an argument and it felt like that dragged way too long – Elizabeth leaves her husband and returns home for weeks?!  

Conclusion:  3/5.  I wanted to like this story more than I did.  The author has written at least one more version with a unique setting, so I’ll probably give that one a try as well.